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The Earth Shakes, the World QUAKEs, December 7th, 1997 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

the soapbox @ benturner.com
archived soapbox: December 7th, 1997
"The Earth Shakes, the World QUAKEs" [permalink]
    keywords: gaming, internet, quake, id software, fps
    soapbox #: 114
    written: December 7th, 1997
    words: 2056

"The Earth Shakes, the World QUAKEs", an Essay

The last time I discussed anything Quake-related was in reference to one of its most ugliest aspects, the significant segment of its community which is made up of perverts and inferiority complexes incarnate. But, as Quake is a very significant game in not only the gaming community, but also in the computer industry and online world, I decided I would go into more depth on the heels of the release of the biggest sequel to any computer game: Quake 2.

Has there ever been such a long buzz and hype for a computer game before? Nope. When it comes to causing chaos in a community, no one does it better than the boys at id software, based in Dallas.

Quake 2 was released this week and already, most of the regular online players have bought or ordered the game so they could get the first cracks at it. Hell, pirated versions of Quake 2 were being circulated well before the actual game was available in the stores. The competition for the game was fierce.

So, first of all, what is it all about? Well, I'll not concern myself with explaining the game all that much. Gaming magazines do that better. What I hope to make clear is what a profound impact Quake and Quake 2 have had to the computer industry.

id software became big after Doom. Surely you've heard of it. You know -- it was the game that was banned on many corporate networks because too many people were playing it on company time. It inspired a whole genre of first person shooter games and has led to merchandise, clothing, and even a Doom movie. Even though the game itself was exciting and unmatched as far as spookiness and gore go, what made it so insanely popular was the multiplayer aspect of it. I, unfortunately, was a bit too young for that period of history, as I didn't have a computer which could handle it very well. 386/20MHz computers quickly grew outdated. But it seemed like everyone who was into games was hopping onto a local network to play a few other friends from work, to emulsify a few bodies with a Big Fucking Gun before getting back to the humdrum work environs.

It's a shame, really -- by the time I bought my 133MHz computer, the industry was gearing towards Quake, the next step in id's history, an attempt for a truly 3d game. Doom was the first download I made with my new computer and it was a blast.

So I was still infatuated with Doom when the Quake test came out, something like a demo which tested the Quake engine for bugs. No monsters, no nothing. Just running around in a 3d world. This was already better than what some projects specialized in for creating 3d worlds, projects like Worlds Chat. By the time Quake came out, a lot of people were skeptical and wanted something like Doom. Quake had mixed reviews at first, usually questioning its success next to Doom, but praising its ambitious attempts.

I tried Quake once for a short time, and I really didn't like it. I was playing it with the wrong sort of controller and that probably had a lot to do with it. I deleted Quake and always questioned its popularity when others talked about it. Oops.

I tried Quake again in college, but I went straight to multiplayer, since that's what everyone was talking about. Logged onto a deathmatch server and...well, instantly, I was hooked. What a rush! Grenades, rockets, and nails flying everywhere, as people rallied for the top score while humiliating opponents. There's a marked difference between singleplayer and multiplayer -- most people get hyper, worked up, and sweaty from the excitement of playing online for the first time. Addictive like a drug.

From there, it only grew. I played deathmatch more and more, finally making the jump into Capture the Flag (CTF), a variant which requires that one of two teams brings the other team's flag back to its base to score. See, CTF was made possible by the open design of the Quake engine -- it allows for anyone to program their own additions to Quake. You're not stuck with the same bland old game. CTF was a blast, and after improving quite quickly, I became part of a new Quake clan, one of the hundreds there are now. See, Quake clans allow for organized and coordinated teams to play at more competitive levels against each other. This is where the community grew exponentially, if it hadn't already from the technophiles who were enjoying the technical aspects of the engine.

More and more people started playing Quake as it grew in sales and popularity. More and more variants of Quake were released, and now there are add-ons like conversions to Doom and Alien, Quake Rally (think car racing), Quakeworld (which makes online play smoother), and more. Some promoters for movies have released Quake maps based on the movie so people can get into the mood for the movie. Ambitious groups of Quake players are making movies with actual scripts using the engine. Online mags are conducting interviews with notable personalities like Steven Spielburg. Demos are made of many of the Quake clan matches for replaying. Tournaments are offering huge prizes like a Ferrari for one, if you beat everyone else.

The best part is that most of this is done on a volunteer basis, so people are spending countless hours contributing to a booming community.

Quake revolutionized the gaming industry, even after id did it previously with Doom. The whole Internet multiplayer world was born with Quake, as it had failed with other projects like The Palace, AlphaWorld, and The Realm. Quake is actually used to benchmark CPUs and video cards. The residual effects are astounding.

I myself have been playing Quake for over a year now, mostly multiplayer now. Still haven't grown tired of it. My clan, Nobody's Children, is competing in online leagues and tourneys and is doing quite well. Most clans have their own Quake servers, all voluntarily put online.

What's most important is the community. Can't stress that enough. All those who say Quake is just blood and gore and juveniles looking to get their kicks isn't fully informed. As a whole, the Quake community is amazingly adept with computers and hardware and is breeding a lot of folks who are monitoring your ISP network or programming your software. I don't think I've ever seen the wealth of resources Quake players have in any other area of computing. Most have machines built primarily for playing Quake, and many have bought 3d effects cards, which work just for 3d-based games. And these people know how to set all their hardware up themselves. Quake players know what they're doing, overall.

There are Quake newsgroups, sites, magazines, .plans, FTP sites, servers, you name it. The names of the people at id are well-known, as are the names of the people of all the branched-off companies, like Ion Storm and Hypnotic. It's big news when someone leaves one of these companies for another. The Quake community is alert and active -- it hasn't dulled out like most communities have. It produces amazing helper applications like GameSpy (gets a list of Quake servers and pulls info from them for you). There is a wealth of information churning out of the Quake community and it's defining how certain technologies (mainly 3d effects AGP, Voodoo, OpenGL, etc.) are developing. No other game has had this effect.

Ah yes, 3d effects boards. What these do is smooth out the polygons which the models (think monsters, weapons, players) are composed of. 3d effects boards are built just to speed up video performance for 3d games, making the frame rates smoother and the view much more pleasant and organic. All the early 3d effects boards like the Diamond Monster 3d and the Orchid Righteous were designed with Quake in mind. Amazing how a game can inspire this sort of technology to blossom.

So come Quake 2. Hell, none of us were really tired with Quake yet. Quake 2 is leaps above Quake in every aspect, from graphics to monsters to weapon balance to map textures to lighting to online play. I played Quake 2 first on my roommate's computer, since he has a 3d effects card and I don't. He also has a 200MHz AMD K6 board. Whoever says Quake is slower on that board hasn't ever used it. ;)

I wasn't impressed immediately with Quake. But Quake 2 hit me right off. The realism was awe-inspiring, what with smoother walls, varieties of textures, realistic spacing and height of boxes and walls and broken pillars. I was amazed at how fluid the world was, and how seamlessly the missile/railgun/missile launcher-toting monsters fit into the world. The sound was soaring with bullets chinking against the wall beside you, roars of ships flying outside, in the sky, the grunts of the soldiers stepping in your way. The lighting looks beautiful, windows and water are transparent, and the transparency for explosions and whatnot are unmatched. I've never played anything quit so immersive.

Monsters and players move around and react as if they were real -- no more clunky polygons shooting squares at you. id did a great job rendering the movement of the creatures. Multiplayer looks superb too, with your player now being able to be man or woman, sending taunts or compliments if you please.

Quake 2 also has an open design, and with the improved engine, you can bet the quality and speed of the patches released for it will be much higher than Quake's. No other game really had this degree of flexibility and enthusiasm of the players for adding onto it.

And the programmers listened to the users' ideas, which filtered in quickly through the Quake 2 test version. The programmers took the time to add in what their consumers suggested. This is a rare quality, especially from a gaming company. Perhaps what makes the people at id so likeable is that they're in touch with the community they're a part of. I've played some of the id guys online on their servers. They respond to the community's messages through their .plans and interviews. They're not all that far from us.

And they're good programmers. Sure, they've made some very clumsy bugs in Quake 2, and their code is by no means as fast and perfected as it could be. But if you talk to them, they know what they're talking about when it comes to multiplayer, standards races, gaming technologies, and so on. They earn their money. They know how to run a company. They got to where they are now by doing what they do very well. I disagree with one of their employees' views on the importance of education over a straight technical education at an art or technical school, but...

Simply wonderful. I won't go on. I've made my point. Hundreds of people have clogged IRC just to get the latest news on any Quake releases. Thousands ordered the game before most people even knew it was coming. Sites had been up long before Quake 2 came out.

And best of all, the game lived up to all the hype. id knows what they're doing -- the rest of the companies have a hard road ahead of them.

Heck, I'm even impressed with their web site, id software. Some companies succeed through flukes, but id ain't one of them.

Good job, guys. You're not free of criticism by any means, but you sure made me look bad for first denouncing Quake and then not expecting anything spectacular from Quake 2.

And to my readers... Merry Christmas and all, even if you hate me or I hate you. I'll be with a very beautiful, sophisticated woman soon for three weeks in Sweden, so as far as I'm concerned, knock yourself out this Christmas. ;)


 
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